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Real Humans of Xbox: Noha Sahnoune, Chicago Booth MBA ’23, Growth and Content Demand

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When you can describe your pre-MBA career as a series of adventures, what could possibly top that? For Noha Sahnoune, it was the gaming industry. In this installment of our Real Humans: Alumni series, Sahnoune shares her journey to her goal of a career at the intersection of the quantitative and creative, and how Chicago Booth‘s focus on data and analytics, community, and location in the great city of Chicago helped her develop relevant skills. Read her story here to find out how she landed a thrilling role at Xbox. 

Noha Sahnoune, Chicago Booth MBA ’23, Growth and Content Demand at Xbox, Microsoft

Age: 30
Hometown: Montreal, Canada; Houston, Texas
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Houston – BBA, MS in Accounting (2016)
Graduate Business School, Grad Year and Concentration: The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business – MBA in Strategy, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship (2023)
Pre-MBA Work experience: Corporate finance and internal audit at ExxonMobil, followed by brand finance at Nestle USA.
Post-MBA Work experience: Growth and content planning at Xbox, Microsoft.

Why did you choose to attend business school?
My career prior to Booth was a series of adventures through finance across the oil & gas and CPG industries. I loved the pace, the cross-functional work, and the consumer focus – and as a creative in my off-hours, sought to find ways to tie my affinity for the quantitative aspects of my roles with my passion for the more qualitative side of business. At that point in my career, business school felt like the best next step to refine my analytical skills, explore different career paths, and ultimately broaden my horizons.

Why Booth? What factors figured most prominently into your decision on where to attend?
Three reasons. First, Booth is renowned for its focus on data and analytics across every discipline, including in marketing and strategy. I was excited to be in a place where my finance and quantitative skills would be challenged in tandem to building knowledge in marketing and strategy, and Booth aligned perfectly with my goals.

Secondly, the Booth community. I spoke to several students and alumni during the application process and took note of how deeply ingrained the pay-it-forward mentality is at Booth. This only grew once I was on campus, and it’s quite contagious. There’s something incredible about being surrounded by a few hundred people from every corner of the world, willing and happy to help each other out.

Lastly, it’s Chicago. There are few cities in the world that can compete with Chicago’s food scene, architecture, and down-to-earth culture. As a photographer (and deep admirer of Vivian Maier’s work) and city walker, living in Chicago has been a dream come true.

What about the MBA experience prepared you for your current career at Xbox?
While my goal was to dive into analytical coursework that was product- and strategy-focused, I also took a myriad of courses that were intertwined with behavioral science and psychology. A crucial component of any role will always require an understanding of interpersonal dynamics – so I dove into as many opportunities I could find to enhance my skills in negotiation, team leadership, conflict resolution, and decision-making in high-pressure situations. These experiences, tied in with sharper analytical skills, have played a significant role in both my life and career post-Booth.

What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice of Xbox?
I interned at Xbox as a product marketing manager on the First Party Games Marketing team, and spent the summer exploring ways to enhance the player journey on cloud gaming. This led to a lot of conversations across many different functions at Xbox – marketing, strategy, engineering, product – and it was a fulfilling experience to work at the crossroads of data and design in tech. The people and culture at Xbox are wonderful, and I was thrilled to come back full-time. 

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently to your decision of where to work?
At Booth, my goal was to find a role at the intersection of the quantitative and creative, with strong consumer focus – and gaming is exactly that. Xbox has been a great time across all measures – the people, the products, the experiences – and I particularly appreciate the emphasis on maintaining a growth mindset throughout our roles and work.

If you asked me a few years ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself an avid gamer – but, my perspectives have changed. Everyone is a gamer in some form or another, whether on a console, on an iPhone, or a crossword puzzle. As a kid, I played the Barbie Fashion Designer game (loved it), Civilization II (it was my father’s), Runescape (all throughout middle school), and my all-time favorite on Windows, Chip’s Challenge. These days, I recently finished playing Inside, a puzzle side-scroller by Playdead that has some fun jumpscares. In my role, I love that we can talk about core business metrics in the same conversations as art styles, game mechanics, and of course, the consumer. The work is just fascinating.

Advice to current MBA students:
One thing you would absolutely do again:
Take the tough classes – the ones you’re curious about, but uncertain on how you’ll fare. The challenge is worth it, and if grade non-disclosure remains, there’s nothing to lose. Also, travel as much as you can! It’s the time to do it. 

Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
Not at all – very straightforward. 

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
This is less advice, more reflection. The MBA will fly by faster than you think, and the person you are when you walk into a classroom on day one is not the same person in cap and gown crossing the stage. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself, about others in these two years – so dream big, travel far, challenge what you think you know, and enjoy the discomfort. It’ll be great.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.